Catholic blog Is Catholicism True .pdf
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Is Catholicism True, Objectively?
One of the main contentions between the Catholic worldview and the commonplace secular worldview
is the belief in the objective view of the world, usually formulated as belief in Objective Truth. This is
not merely restricted to thinking that Catholicism is the Truth (though that idea is of course included
implicitly and often explicitly when Catholics speak about the nature of Truth), but is generally a call to
arms to defend the idea of Truth itself—that there can be Truth that holds true for everyone no matter
their given circumstances, and that there is a definitive way to undercover such a Truth.
This defense of Truth has become especially passionate in light of the rising influence of
postmodernism, a philosophical school which often undermines the idea that there can be definitive
claims to Truth as well as an objective viewpoint from which to even approach the idea of an impartial,
absolute Truth. All this comes to a head when moral relativity enters into the picture; if Truth and
Moral Good is merely what I believe relative to what others may believe, there seems to be little in the
way of logical reason to compel someone to convert to another religion or moral system, if indeed there
is any value in choosing one at all from such a relativist viewpoint.
That is, at least, the common narrative described today in our so-called post-Truth political
environment. This narrative pits the rational, common sense Everyman against the pedantic “Cultural
Marxist” archetype, one detached from the real world and coming up with fanciful theories that
disregard religious and political ideas inconvenient to the prevailing secular mindset of many Western
universities. However, that is to view the whole scenario from a very modern lens; the questioning of
the limits of human knowledge in uncovering Truth is a debate that goes back to at least the fifth
century BC, inasmuch as the Sophists of Socrates’ day were presented as sleazy con men who, like
slick lawyers, could make any argument mean anything, because “man is the measure of all things.”
Postmodernism is merely the latest in a series of skeptical strains of thought which challenge all
ideologies, all grand narratives, and all Truth claims in an effort to deny that any one group has the
right to consider themselves the gatekeepers of true human knowledge.
From this perspective just described, the Truth is something under attack by those who wish to subvert
or distort it. However, this assumes that the Truth is only something externally observed and passively
consented to. The most enduring Truths are not falsifiable, and as such the scientific method common
to the secular worldview has no way to investigate the deepest Catholic theories into the nature of who
we are and why we are.
The relativist orientation of postmodernism is largely a reaction to logical positivism (a philosophy
which underpins the basis of scientism), and postmodernist readings of the world serve to create
tension about the positivist claims to Truth via verificationism and falsifiability. The positivist view that
the only meaningful Truths are those that can be communicated precisely via language and verified by
observation or experience is itself a throwback to Enlightenment empiricism, which held information
and knowledge gained via the senses as superior to that derived from arguments via a priori
knowledge. While later philosophical schools such as German idealism, existentialism, and
phenomenology muddled the classical rationalist/empiricist divide in Western philosophy, empiricism’s
influence is still very much felt in the legacy of thinkers like Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and
John Stuart Mill.
Meanwhile, Catholic theology itself posits Truth at the heart of what are called “sacred mysteries”:
many of the fundamental tenets of Catholicism, such as the Trinity, the Eucharist, the Resurrection, and
the Virgin Birth, remain essentially—literally—mysterious. They are primary elements of a wider
revelation which the Church considers divine, but they are mysteries chiefly because they have not
been fully revealed to us in the physical realm. Insofar as these mysteries are believed to come from a
divine source, they are True, but since we are beings in the physical realm, our understanding of these
mysteries is by necessity incomplete and limited. Furthermore, God is not merely a supreme or highest
being, but “the sheer act of being itself”; Lonergan describes God as “an unrestricted act of thinking.”
Once we internalize the idea of how wholly different God is from our worldly expectations, outside all
human physical and mental limitations, it is actually quite an arrogant claim to say that we can know
the Objective Truth objectively, as we remain limited in our ability to grasp the real Truths that are at
the heart of existence and meaning. Only God can capture the Truth in its fullness; the rest of us must
be content with filtering the Truth through the lens of Divine Revelation and grappling with our
necessarily imperfect understanding of it. We can know the Truth subjectively, the subjective part here
being Divine Revelation in the context of Catholicism, and insofar as Catholicism truly reveals Divine
Revelation, it is true. But because we are not ourselves God, we as humans have no way to ever
objectively know what the Truth fully is in this life, but this should not paralyze us in epistemic despair.
Indeed, the knowledge that there is still so much more to know should motivate us as Christians to
strive to approach the Truth closer and closer, as our understanding of Divine Revelation sharpens as
we mature in our understanding of the sacred mysteries contained in Divine Revelation.
A quick way many proponents of Objective Truth attempt to shut down the postmodernists is that if
postmodernism is true, then the statement “there is no Objective Truth” is itself not objectively true,
immediately turning the absurdity of postmodernism in on itself. But this only shuts the question down
from the vantage point of scientism and materialism, where observation, evidence, and experimentation
reign supreme is discerning whether any specific item can be called Truth. Once confronted with a
worldview that includes sacramental mysteries, Divine Revelation and providence, a Messianic Godman, and miraculous events, postmodernism has much less to say about the ontological claims of Truth.
Postmodern methods may be effective to deny Truths that rely on a positivist foundation, but beyond
that vale, postmodernism loses much of its efficacy with regards to the claim that there are no
knowable Truths, ontologically speaking.
But the epistemology of postmodernism—that we are necessarily limited in our ability to access the
full and unrestricted Truth—actually remains consistent with Catholic theology’s presentation of the
Truth as a mystery to humankind. It is not consistent with Catholic theology to claim that there is no
such thing as Objective Truth, but that is an entirely different matter from claiming that humans do not
have the facilities and vantage point to discern the full Truth by ourselves. We are necessarily limited
by a number of biases shared by all humans who have ever lived: we experience time in a single
dimension, we can only visualize a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, we have to resort to
signs, symbols, and biological mechanisms in order to communicate with each other. Current evidence
suggests that humans have only had the technology of writing for roughly 5,000 years (a mere blink of
an eye on geologic time scales); who are we to say that we are “finished” uncovering the mysteries of
the universe when only yesterday we were figuring out how to create an alphabet? To suggest that we
have objectively figured out the Truth arbitrarily during the 20th or 21st centuries and that’s the end of
that is about as arrogant as the claim that there is no such thing as Objective Truth. Only God is capable
of knowing the Objectively Truth objectively. The rest of us—faithful Catholics included—are subject
to knowing the Objective Truth only as it reflects Divine Revelation, and nothing more.